Friday, April 11, 2014

Bubba Leads Masters, Bertha Leads His Fan Club

Second Round of the 2014 Masters

By Teddy Allen

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Her real name is Bertha Marie Bradford, so you’ll forgive her if she goes by Rebo. “It’s just always been a nickname,” she said. “Who names somebody Bertha?”

Her mom, of course, but that’s another story. The point is, this Southern woman from Monroe, La., has done what thousands of other Southerners have done: she’s fallen in love with self-taught pro golfer Bubba Watson, the 2012 Masters champion who holds a three-stroke lead going into the weekend of that very same tournament.

She first felt the tug on her first trip to Augusta, in 2011. “I just loved his hair,” she said. “I saw him walking off 18 and said, ‘Hey, Bubba! You’re my man!’ He gave me like a half nod. But that was enough.”

The scales tipped completely as she watched television the following April when Watson pulled off a historic shot from the trash on the second hole of sudden death, then made par for his first green jacket.

“He cries when he wins,” she said, “and he hugs his momma. How can you not love that?”

She and her husband will roam Augusta National this weekend, in person, rooting for Watson on ground that’s yielded just six rounds in the 60s in the first two days. Watson is the only man with two of those.

He started the day a stroke back, shot even on the front and then caught fire on the back, taking advantage of pins a bit more accessible. He birdied five in a row – the par 3s, the 12th and 16th, were the bookends -- to post a 32 for a round of 68. With Thursday’s opening round 69, that’s a 137 total.

The rest of the leaderboard is speckled with a champion or two, but mostly its half eye chart, half geography quiz.

Alone in second place is Australian John Senden, one stroke ahead of four players: defending Masters champion and fellow Australian Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth of Dallas, and two men with reindeer names, Jonas Blixt and Thomas Bjorn.

Fred Couples, who plays Augusta National with the ease of a man dozing in an easy chair,  is one of three players at 142; since turning 50 in late 2009, Couples, the 1992 Masters champ, has finished no worse here than tied for 15th.

More notable might be all the players who won’t tee it up today. Tiger Woods skipped Augusta because of a bad back, and Phil Mickelson will miss the weekend because of missing the cut by a stroke at 5-over. It will be only the second Tiger-less, Phil-less “major” weekend in the past 17 years. Other notables missing the cut: Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Schwartzel, Graeme McDowell, Zach Johnson and Dustin Johnson.

Mickelson said his problem was not the bum back or knee. Nothing health-wise plagued him, he said. It wasn’t even bad golf. “I actually played reasonably well for a majority of the holes, and then the ones that I let slide, I end up making a big number,” he said. Those numbers were a pair of 7’s Thursday and a double-par 6 on 12 Friday, when the three-time Masters champ hit into the front bunker, then into the back bunker, then into the front again.

Louis Oosthuizen, former British Open champ and the runner-up to Watson here in 2012, was in the lead until an 8 on No. 15. Short story: the wind tricked him, both in his approach and, of all places, on the green. But at Augusta, these things happen.

Watson knows. Last year as the defending champ and one stroke off the lead on Sunday, he scored a 10 on the 12th with three balls into Rae’s Creek, including one from the bunker. He hit a knock-down 9 to four feet of the pin on the same hole Friday for the first of his five straight birdies.

The Rebos of the world love it when the Bubbas do something like that.

If he can continue to drive the ball well – he’s third in that tournament at 299 yards – hit greens and pick his spots, he’s got a good chance in a talent-deleted field to get back his green jacket.

At the same time, steady Scott, Australia’s answer to America’s Bubba and only four strokes back, has a chance to keep it.